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Council wants timely bag revenue

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Robert Stauber folds blue garbage bags while preparing them for sale at The Daily Grind South Tuesday morning.

CORTLAND — Businesses selling city-mandated blue garbage bags may soon see officials pass legislation to penalize those that fail to pay back money owed to the city, which amounts to tens of thousands of dollars each month.

An item on the agenda for Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Common Council, which was pulled at the last minute, would have had aldermen weigh in on whether the city should charge a 10 percent delinquency fee on businesses failing to turn in revenue generated from the garbage bags.

The bags, which are required to be used for trash under city law, are distributed to stores where residents can buy them. Mayor Brian Tobin said the issue is that businesses selling the bags are late turning over the revenue each month.

“(Businesses) order the bags, and then they pay us and then we pay the company that makes the bags,” he said. “The problem right now is that not all the vendors are paying the city in a timely manner, so we have some outstanding bills.”

The city’s blue bag program generates roughly $468,000 annually for the city. City Director of Administration and Finance Mack Cook said this morning delinquencies can short the city anywhere between $20,000 and $30,000 each month.

Officials began considering last week what to do about the problem and sent out letters to businesses selling bags to let them know the delinquency tax is being considered, Tobin said. The item was pulled from the agenda to give the city attorney a chance to review it before aldermen vote.

“We want … these stores to continue to sell blue bags because it’s a convenience to the general public,” he said. “The bottom line is … it’s money out, money in. Each of our budget lines we pay attention to. (The Department of) Public Works wanted to make sure that we are collecting revenue in an appropriate time frame.”

In other business, Common Council unanimously approved a contract to give the Cortland Police Department access to an online service to help track stolen items.

Police Chief F. Michael Catalano said the department had been using a trial version of a software made by LeadsOnline Llc of Texas. The program helps track stolen items that may have been sold at pawn shops or that other police departments may be searching for that come to Cortland.

The contract is good for one year and the police department will likely renew the agreement if it proves to be as useful as expected, Catalano said.

Finally, members of the Common Council volunteered to sit on two new exploratory committees.

One has been tasked with exploring revising laws to accommodate ride-sharing, should the state legalize the service in upstate New York.

Ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft have become popular alternatives to taxis in cities across the country, including in New York City, and the state Legislature is expected to consider passing a law to implement a statewide insurance policy to bring the services elsewhere.

Deputy Chief Paul Sandy originally proposed the review. Tobin said while he could support it, his top goal is to address concerns before the service is available.

“It seems very promising but like anything new, it needs to be evaluated and looked at from several angles,” Tobin said.

The other committee will solicit comment about two-hour parking and alternatives to improve downtown parking.

Tobin said he has received a number of complaints about parking downtown and said he wants aldermen to explore alternatives such as extending hours, unlimited parking or instituting a paid parking system.

“This is something that’s maybe worth … a conversation and evaluating what we’re doing with parking in the downtown corridor,” he said.

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